Gathering together the PC(USA) for the General Assembly requires that many different factors be taken into consideration¬. In 2020, new concerns were added to the planning process with the unknowns and health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It became urgent for the Church to consider innovative ways of creating the small group settings that serve to better keep participants safe during any gatherings. This innovative thinking has become a secondary blessing for the Church in the ways it provides for cost savings amid limited financial resources. Rather than striving to re-create past Assemblies with inadequate resources, the pandemic has empowered the PC(USA) to embrace the movement of the Spirit and do a new thing. Successfully conducting the 224th General Assembly online in 2020 has provided a base of knowledge and experience for future planning.
The 225th General Assembly will include both in-person committee meetings in Louisville and online plenary sessions, which will require commissioner and advisory delegate virtual attendance. By late February 2022, all participants will be informed of their committee assignment and which days their assigned committee will be meeting. Prior to this, commissioners and advisory delegates are asked to place a tentative hold on their calendars from June 17 to July 9, 2022. As soon as committee assignments are made, participants may clear any days their committee will not be meeting. Knowing that this temporary hold may cause difficulties for some participants, the GA Co-Moderators, members of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly, the Stated Clerk and Office of the General Assembly colleagues have made it a priority to communicate with participants in a timely manner.
Given the new and innovative ideas being put into place for the 225th General Assembly, it is important for the Church to be able to reflect on what innovations are effective and which need continued discernment. In order to make an informed decision, no decisions will be made until summer 2022 regarding future Assemblies.
It has become clear over the past year that meetings providing for the inclusion of both in-person attendees and online participants is a necessity for the Church. Impending renovations to the Presbyterian Center at 100 Witherspoon St. in Louisville will allow this need to be met for the General Assembly, as well as other meetings. The creation of new meeting rooms equipped with production technology will allow for improved quality and decreased expenses to host these meetings. The space will also be made available to host meetings of other PC(USA) related organizations, as well as nonprofits and civic organizations in Louisville.
The cost of these building improvements will total $2.4 million. Approximately $1.6 million will come from existing unrestricted reserves. Another $479,000 has been contributed from per capita funds given from members through their congregation and mid council to the work of the Church. Finally, about $325,000 will come from capital reserves. This investment enables the Church to provide better quality and more inclusive and welcoming meeting spaces for online and in-person meetings, creating additional cost savings that will be recognized immediately. The savings will continue to climb as these building resources are used by the whole of the Church.
Inspired by the vision of the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, the 225th General Assembly will focus on the gathering and discernment of commissioners and advisory delegates as they meet to discuss and discern important topics in community. This approach will empower participants of the Assembly to put their energy into listening to the will of God as it calls the Church into service.
While past Assemblies have surrounded this important work of discernment with additional time for community and networking opportunities, the vision of the 225th General Assembly prioritizes committee, worship and plenary time. However, conversations have already begun regarding other PC(USA) conferences and gatherings as places at which coming together and networking may be held without the added pressure of business meetings.
Colleagues across the Office of the General Assembly are collaborating on the creation of training opportunities that will equip participants for both the in-person and online portions of the Assembly. These will cover many topics, including technology familiarity, use of PC-Biz, parliamentary procedure, and equity and inclusion. In addition to these trainings, conversations between mid council leaders regarding their best practices and expertise will be cultivated so that we can all learn from each other on how best to equip Assembly commissioners and advisory delegates.
Open hearings are an important part of the Assembly process as they provide an opportunity for committees to hear from any individual regarding the business being considered. In previous Assemblies, speaking during open hearings required that an individual travel to the Assembly in order to be heard. The 225th General Assembly will allow for prerecorded video testimonies to be submitted for the open hearing session. Through the use of a simple web application, individuals across the whole Church and beyond will be able to contribute their testimony when and where they are able. Discussion is underway to provide for remote Overture Advocate participation, with more details to come in August 2021.
Embracing technology for the work of discernment opens many doors for the General Assembly. We are better equipped to provide language interpretation, are able to connect with existing vision and auditory support technologies and will meet people where they are. All of these benefits improve the Assembly as a whole in creating better accessibility for participants.
However, quality internet access and technology literacy are contributing factors to the digital divide, which challenges all online events. The connectional nature of the Church allows us to approach this divide alongside one another. Mid council leaders are encouraged to reach out to commissioners and advisory delegates to best meet their technology needs. Mid councils may be able to find local solutions that will empower participants by loaning devices or creating hospitality spaces with high-speed internet in which participants can safely gather.
Vaccinations at GA225
As of February 10, 2022. This information will be updated, as necessary.
All participants who attend the General Assembly at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19. No exemptions to the vaccine mandate will be approved. Proof of vaccination will be required in advance. This action was taken both to protect the health and safety of all who work at Presbyterian Center in Louisville, the location of the assembly, and also for the health and safety of everyone coming to participate in the General Assembly
Additional protocols, including the wearing of high-quality masks and social distancing as possible, will also be in effect during the assembly. These requirements are based on our Christian imperative to love one another – which includes doing all we can to shield one another from harm – and to foster the well-being of the whole community.
We do not have all the details yet, but we expect to contract with a third-party vendor to ensure that all in-person attendees to the General Assembly are vaccinated. More information will be available during the registration process.
To qualify as vaccinated, individuals must have had the first course of vaccination (1 J&J/Janssen, 2 Pfizer-BioNTech, or 2 Moderna shots) plus a booster shot when eligible.
The CDC says individuals are eligible for a booster based on the following schedule:
-J&J/Janssen: individuals 18 years and other should receive a booster after 2 months
-Pfizer-BioNTech: individuals 12 years and older should receive a booster after 5 months
-Moderna: individuals 18 years and older should receive a booster after 6 months
Should additional booster shots become available, individuals will be expected to receive those shots when eligible.
The Office of the General Assembly (OGA), along with other PC(USA) agencies, made the decision to require vaccinations to enter the Presbyterian Center based in part on the highly contagious Omicron and Delta variants of COVID 19. We took these steps for the health and safety not only of our staff, but of visitors as well.
As followers of Christ we are called to protect the most vulnerable among us, love and care for our neighbor as ourselves, and consider the needs of the local and global community as well as our individual needs. We must also seek to reach a balance that allows for in-person communal work life and appropriate precautions related to COVID-19. This includes following CDC and local health guidelines as we are able.
A vaccine mandate, enacted by leaders at the Presbyterian Center, was announced for all visitors to the Presbyterian Center starting January 31. This mandate will be in place through at least July of 2022. Staff in the OGA, with the approval of the Stated Clerk, made the decision to extend the vaccination mandate for all in-person attendees to the assembly. The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly affirmed the action taken by OGA.
One thing we have learned over the last two years is that we can’t predict how severe this virus may become. Omicron was not an issue when the selection process was taking place and within weeks it was the primary variant with a rapid infection rate. With each variant come new challenges that could impact the health of individuals going in and out of the Presbyterian Center.
COVID-19 is like nothing most of us have ever been exposed to. It continues to mutate. While some may not get sick even after being infected by the virus, they can still expose those who are less immune. The PC(USA) is following the guidelines established by the Center for Disease Control and believes it is the best action to take to protect everyone who meets in person at the Presbyterian Center.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), looked at this issue in the fall of 2021. It was his conclusion that theological commitments of the PC(USA) do not support religious exemptions. To the contrary, our theological commitments compel us to urge that all people be vaccinated against COVID-19.
OGA first shared this announcement with mid council leaders so that they would be aware of the change in rules and could share it with their commissioners. It is included in the registration invitation emails being sent directly to commissioners, advisory delegates, and other official participants as the assembly registration process rolls out.
The OGA and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) partnered to create a COVID Advisory Panel, consisting of medical professionals and a trained epidemiologist. They are providing information and advice as we navigate large gatherings during the pandemic. Based upon their guidance, we will continue to evaluate other mitigation strategies and may add additional protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible.
The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly could change to an online General Assembly by February 18th without additional financial implications. April 20th is the deadline to convert to a fully online General Assembly in order to allow enough time to implement a new plan.